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Iowa gov. signs bill for harsher penalties for rioters, more police legal protections

Police car lights (Wikimedia/Matty Ring)
June 22, 2021

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law pro-police legislation on Thursday to increase legal protections for law enforcement and implement harsher punishments for riots and unlawful assembly crimes.

The “Back the Blue Act,” or SF 342, makes rioting a felony offense, establishes qualified immunity, increases due process protections for police, and “increases penalties on a range of other destructive behaviors,” the governor’s office said in a statement. It also makes local governments accountable for policies that prevent local law enforcement from doing their jobs.

“I made it clear in my Condition of the State Address that Iowa’s law enforcement will always have my respect, and I will always have their back,” Gov. Reynolds’ statement on the new law said. “Today’s bill embodies that commitment in a historic way. The public peace is too important, and the safety of our officers too precious, to tolerate destructive behavior.” 

The new law also “bans discrimination in the enforcement of the law” and provides a complaint process for citizens who believe their rights have been violated.  

“Today’s bill illustrates an important truth: there is no contradiction whatsoever between steadfast support for honorable and selfless law enforcement officers – the vast majority – and a commitment to improving law enforcement,” she continued.    

“Like so many Iowans, I was raised to be grateful to the heroes who patrol our streets at great personal risk and sacrifice,” she said. “And tragically, this fundamental and wholesome part of America’s culture is now under vicious attack.”

The new law prompted backlash from top Democrats in the state, including Iowa Democratic Party Chair Ross Wilburn, who called the move “a giant step backwards.”

“Instead of furthering an important discussion about anti-racial profiling measures and modernizing our public safety departments, Gov. Reynolds took a giant step backwards,” Wilburn said.

Last year, Gov. Reynolds signed into law a bill that banned police chokeholds and prevented officers previously convicted of a felony from being hired.

“There’s no contradiction between steadfast support for honorable and selfless police officers — the vast majority — and a commitment to improving policing,” she said. “There’s no contradiction between world class investigation and treating victims of crime the way we ourselves would want to be treated. And there’s no contradiction between vigorous policing and the community outreach that builds trust between law enforcement and everyday Iowans.”

According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa State Representative Phyllis Thede said the pro-police law sends “a terrible, terrible message.”

“I am frustrated. I am so dismayed over what’s going on with this bill,” Thede said. “And I think that if we don’t pave the way for better police reform we’re going to see more dangers ahead.”